Tagg Bozied: the birth of a bobblehead
By Harry Cummins
As most of us came to realize long ago, life is given to bizarre and hair-trigger shifts in fortune.
Lest I ever forget and begin to celebrate a personal triumph too loudly, I need only glance at the bobblehead doll that rests on my desk. It is the likeness of a somewhat obscure baseball player named Tagg Bozied (pronounced bow-zayd).
Bozied was a great collegiate player in 1999, when he won the West Coast Conference triple crown playing for the University of San Francisco. He hit .412 for the Dons that season, along with 30 home runs. He led all of NCAA Division I baseball with a .936 slugging percentage. He earned a spot on the U.S.A. national team and still remains the WCC record holder with 60 career home runs.
Represented by the iconic sports agent Scott Boras, Bozied was a third-round pick in 2001 by the San Diego Padres and played 11 seasons in the minors. He never realized a single at-bat in the major leagues. Many never knew his name.
Yet, his bobblehead adorns my cluttered desk, sitting deservedly next to the great “Mr. Padre” himself, Tony Gwynn.
There are myriad reasons why a gifted performer never reaches the pinnacle of his chosen profession. If he so elected, Bozied could perhaps point to a July night in Portland in 2004 as the pivotal moment in his career. The night everything changed while wearing the uniform of the Portland Beavers.
I had planned a speedy exit from the Pacific Coast League game that night, walking to the left field gates of PGE Park in the ninth inning to catch the MAX train downtown. The Beavers trailed Tacoma 5-4 awaiting their final turn at bat.
Having watched too many desultory Portland defeats in the past, I considered beating the crowd and leaving before the Beavers came to bat. I decided to stay as Portland began to collect base runners until they loaded the bases ... and up stepped Tagg Bozied, who was tearing up the PCL at the time.
Bozied then smashed that most rare and dramatic of baseball home runs, a walk-off grand slam deep over my head, nearly 400 feet away into the left field seats. It was his 16th HR of the season. I was glad I had stayed to see it, and as he rounded the bases, I watched his jubilant teammates gather at home plate for a wild celebration.
As Bozied approached home, in a hero’s baseball ritual, he leaped for joy into the arms of his waiting teammates. Suddenly, the mob at home plate began to part like the Red Sea.
Bozied felt his left knee collapse before landing on the plate. He blacked out as teammates hit his helmet and hugged him in joy. When he quickly came to, he looked down to see his kneecap pushed high up into his quadriceps.
The Beavers first baseman had severely ruptured his patella tendon and was loaded into an ambulance, headed to a nearby hospital. He was never quite the same player, though he kicked around the minors for many more seasons.
Bozied had gone from hitting a walk-off grand slam to the back of an ambulance. To this day, it remains the most bizarre thing I have ever witnessed on a baseball field.
Bozied mustered one final season of greatness in 2010. Playing for Reading of the Eastern League (AA), he hit .315 with 27 home runs in 104 games. Failing to get a call to the majors, he retired at the end of the following season.
A month after his season-ending injury, the team announced it was paying tribute to its shelved slugger with a Tagg Bozied Bobblehead Night.
For his part in agreeing to be featured, Bozied was given 100 of the one-of-kind collectibles. I waited in a long line that night to get mine.
Nearly every day since, I have flicked the bill on Bozied’s plastic cap with my finger, watching his bespectacled head bobble up ... then quickly down. A bat in his hands, he still swings!
An everyday metaphor hard to miss.